Google has its own definition: “people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport”. In my opinion, this is quite a simplistic view of a complicated identity that’s becoming more prevalent in society. Growing up in Singapore, I was one of thousands of Third Culture Kids. We all were born somewhere, raised somewhere else, studied here but our parents were from entirely different countries. However it finally became my turn to move on to a new country and assimilate into a new culture all over again.
The struggle of being a Third Culture Kid
Identity, it’s complicated.
People asking where I’m from will never fail to make me freeze momentarily. You then proceed to ask a ridiculous amount of follow up questions:
“Where I came from before here?”
“Where my family is from?”
“Where I was born?”
What should have been a 10 second conversation turns into a biography. Your identity may be an insecurity, it definitely is for me. Being from everywhere sometimes feels like being from nowhere at all.
Your accent is something else altogether. When everyone else around you has an “international accent”, it only takes leaving that environment to be suddenly conscious of how different you really sound (especially if your accent doesn’t match up with people’s expectations of you). It changes too, from talking to parents, friends at university, friends from home and teachers. You’ll never be able to categorise it.
Speaking your own language also brings troubles. When you grow up in a country where English isn’t the primary language, you’re used to hearing conversations you don’t understand. It really doesn’t bother you when people suddenly switch languages mid-conversation when something is better said in their mother tongue. It’s hard being conscious that this may come across as rude sometimes, it’s not your intention but you can’t imagine conversations any other way.
Why I love being a Third Culture Kid
While they wouldn’t win me any prizes, I definitely have my fair share of moderately useful talents.
Navigating time zones to call friends and family is pretty much effortless now. Converting currencies is ingrained in my subconscious and I’ll always be comparing. I’ve tried about every free calling app available so giving detailed reviews on them is easy. You’re probably bilingual and have definitely picked up phrases from other languages that you just integrate into your vocabulary. Not so useful for intellectual debates but enough to bargain for a better price at a street market. Your education was diverse; the books your studied, the history you learned and the opportunities you had widened your horizons because you had multiple perspectives. You’ve collected many ideas and opinions and now you’re able to form informed ones of your own.
Leaving friends behind or watching them go is never easy. Unfortunately, it’s something you’re used to. But you take every year as a new opportunity to meet new people. You’ve got friends scattered all around the globe. You secretly enjoy doing the math to find the best time for a group Skype call and when to wish someone happy birthday. Reuniting is always the best feeling but even with your time spent apart your friendship hasn’t changed.
I’ve come to realise that “home” isn’t always a place, it’s the people.